Gun Violence in the United States Is a Crisis of Public Health and Public Safety – and Philanthropy Is Stepping Up

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Gun Violence in the United States Is a Crisis of Public Health and Public Safety – and Philanthropy Is Stepping Up
By Alex Johnson, Program Director, The California Wellness Foundation and Asheley Van Ness, Director of Criminal Justice, Arnold Ventures.

We have all become far too familiar with the sobering statistics. Each year, more than 100,000 Americans are killed or injured by firearms. Mass shootings may make the headlines, but the sad reality of everyday gun violence often gets relegated to the small print. Gun violence disproportionately impacts communities of color. Suicides comprise the majority of gun deaths. A gun in the hand of a domestic abuser increases the likelihood of a victim being killed or injured. If we want to stop gun violence, these issues will require far more scrutiny and study than they currently receive. 

Philanthropy plays a unique role in American public policy as catalysts for change, often blazing paths forward that governments follow. There is no issue more in need of people willing to press forward than the fight against gun violence. In recent years, funders have stepped up in unique and interesting ways. In 2011 the Joyce Foundation created the Fund for a Safer Future to achieve comprehensive, effective policies to reduce gun injury and death. Other prominent donors have since joined in this effort, such as the MacArthur Foundation, the McCormick Foundation and the Broad Foundation. 

Another relatively new collaborative effort is the Hope and Heal Fund.  After a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, the foundation hosted a summit dedicated to confronting gun violence. The result was the development of a fund that invests in best practices and strategic solutions to prevent and interrupt gun violence in all forms. Current partners are the California Wellness Foundation, Liberty Hill, Blue Shield of California Foundation, the California Endowment, the Heising-Simons Foundation, Sierra Health Foundation and the Akonadi Foundation. 

Philanthropic investments can also help build the foundation of knowledge we’ve been missing for decades—evidence that can help  develop more effective gun policies. Driven by an understanding of the urgency of this problem, Arnold Ventures launched the National Collaborative on Gun Violence Research in 2018 with a five-year, $20 million gift. The RAND Corporation is administering the effort to foster rigorous research on basic questions surrounding gun violence and start to fill in critical gaps in knowledge.  In July the collaborative took a big step forward with its first request for proposals awarding nearly $10 million in grants for a series of gun violence research studies on subjects ranging from gun safety and suicide to school violence and officer-involved shootings. 

But philanthropy can never come close to providing the breadth, depth, and scope of funding that would be possible from the federal government. That is why we are thrilled that Congress has appropriated $25 million in research for the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study gun violence. This is the first significant investment into gun violence research in two decades, and yet there is still more to be done to reduce gun violence. 

While the news that the federal government has stepped up in funding gun violence is significant (and long overdue), the philanthropic community must also play its own unique role and be bold in supporting the work to save thousands upon thousands of lives.  As a starting point, philanthropy can: 1) help build knowledge we’ve been missing for decades—evidence that can help us develop more effective gun policies, 2) support projects to identify and improve execution of policies and practices 3) invest in initiatives for  improved firearms data at the local, state, and federal levels or 4) support policy and advocacy backed by rigorous evidence-based research.

For too long, our nation has let this crisis of public health and public safety continue unencumbered without funding commensurate with the size of the challenge. We’re finally seeing the public and private sectors rise to this historic moment and put in the effort necessary to stem the tide of our gun violence epidemic. 

We hope you will join us at PNY on January 22nd to hear more from our colleagues on what the philanthropic sector has been doing to address gun violence.

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